By Anjali Ojha
The Make in India initiative got a huge push with Russia agreeing to manufacture upwards of 200 light helicopters in India, a move that once again made it this country’s top supplier of military hardware, while purchases worth over Rs.2 lakh crore ($30 billion) were approved.
The year saw a glass ceiling being broken with the Indian Air Force’s decision to allow women into the fighter stream, while the Indian vy submitted a proposal for inducting women as surveillance pilots.
At the same time, going ahead with its new “offensive-defensive” policy, India launched a first-of-its kind surgical operation, attacking terror camps along the India-Myanmar border.
The year also witnessed diversification in India’s defence partners, with the US entering the field prominently in the beginning of the year. France was also in the limelight due to the still-to-be-concluded for 36 Rafale combat jets. Russia, however, reemerged as the key partner at the fag end of the year following Prime Minister rendra Modi’s visit. Russia accounted for 70 percent of India’s arms imports in 2010-14, will build the Kamov Ka-226 helicopters in India and will also fabricate 12 new nuclear reactors at two sites.
The year began with US President Barack Obama being the chief guest at the Republic Day parade and this was followed by a new Defence Framework Agreement being signed in June.
The two sides also agreed to pursue projects that will offer tangible opportunities for American defence industries to build partnership with the Indian industries including in manufacturing under the Make in India initiative.
On the acquisition front a Request for Proposal (RFP) was cleared for six more Scorpene submarines under the P75 Project for around Rs.80,000 crore. This will add to the six that are currently being built at Mumbai’s Mazagon Dock Ltd.
The Indian Army got clearance to buy 145 BaE Systems M777 ultra-light howitzers for Rs. 2,900 crore through the Foreign Military Sales route.
This apart, a new Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) gives priority to indigenous products.
The defence ministry has said it has got a “positive response” from both within the country and globally - from countries like Israel, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US - to the Make in India initiative. Since its launch some 18 months ago, 61 companies have obtained 81 Industrial Licences (ILs) for manufacture of various defence equipment.
On his part, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar set an ambitious target of achieving 50 percent indigenisation by 2017, and up to 60-70 percent in next five years.
In Parrikar’s words, the mission in expediting defence procurement is also about changing a “mindset of mistrust” that he said developed over the last ten years.
And, in an important step targeting speedy indigenisation, the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) limit was raised from 26 percent to 49 percent through approval route. Proposals above this would be considered on a case-to-case basis.
Also, the defence products list for the purpose of industrial licensing was substantively shortened and notified, as was a defence exports strategy for faster clearances.
Interaction with industry was identified as a key area for pushing the domestic defence sector, and a Make in India website was launched for it, promising replies to queries in three days.
The private sector figured significantly in big-ticket deals.
The fag end of the year saw Boeing and Tata Advanced Systems announcing a joint venture to manufacture aerostructures for aircraft and collaborate on integrated systems, while the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Group signed an agreement with Russia’s AlmazAntey to work jointly on a range of air defence missile and radar systems for the Indian defence forces.
As for the western border, 2015 saw a decline in infiltrations to 92 (till September 30) from 264 in 2012 and 221 in 2014.
A number of joint exercises were witnessed. The Indian Army engaged in counter-terrorism and humanitarian aid exercise ‘Hand in Hand’ with Chi, Indra with Russia, and Yudh Abhyas with the US.
The Indian Air Force participated in Indradhanush-IV with the Royal Air Force and in a drill with the Republic of Singapore Air Force. The Indian vy engaged with France in exercise Varu off Goa, SIMBEX with Singapore, Ausindex with Australia and Malabar with the US and Japan. Indian vy vessels also visited several countries for port calls and other engagements with Egypt, Iran, Israel, Japan, the Phillipines, Qatar, South Korea, Spain, the UAE and Vietm. The defence ministry announced a long-awaited One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme, which takes 2013 as the base year and takes the average of the upper and lower pensions of a rank to fix new pensions, also protecting those who are above the average. Revisions will take place every five years. The veterans, however, continued their agitation, stating that the government scheme is not true to the definition of OROP.
(Anjali Ojha can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)